Here’s something I’ve been playing around with - it started as a podcast episode, then an article, before morphing into this letter.
Dear Person Who Misused “Woke”,
Today, I heard you describe something I cared about as “woke” and it set my teeth on edge. The term “wokeism” does the same. Neither of those sits right with me. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, because there’s nothing wrong with being woke, if you know the original meaning. And second, because of what it implies about you.
Let me talk briefly about the first thing: the meaning. If you don’t already know, the idea that Black people should be more socially and politically conscious goes back to Marcus Garvey in the 1930s. Shortly thereafter, the phrase “stay woke” urged Black Americans to be aware of racially motivated threats. That’s what it actually means. And since those threats are real, staying woke can’t be bad, as far as I’m concerned.
Of course, as Black folx we’re not allowed to have nice things, so white extremists and bigots have attempted to redefine the word woke as something bad, and many, many media outlets worldwide have helped them do it.
It’s really annoying. Because how could being aware of social injustice and racism be bad? How could advocating for humanity and equality be bad? It seems to me that the people using woke as an insult are the very people we need to be most alert to. After all, it’s not the people who are actually woke who pose a threat to society. Oh no - that would be the white extremists. Google it; you’ll see I’m right.
But my second issue with the misuse of woke is even bigger.